June 29, 2017

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by Skyler Wang

PERHAPS more than any of the iterations before, this year’s Pink Dot is being afflicted by a series of peculiar developments. One after another, attempts were made by both Pink Dot detractors and the State to curtail the success of the event.

The most recent incident, concerning a Pink Dot advertisement found on an escalator in Cathy Cineleisure, broke just days ago. Members belonging to the Facebook group “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” heavily criticised Pink Dot organisers for the ad placement, as well as the shopping mall for agreeing to display it. The contention around the ad eventually found its way to the tables of The Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), which, upon deliberation, came to the conclusion that the ad’s slogan, “Supporting the Freedom to Love”, violated one of the general principles of the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP) – those of “family values”. According to the authorities, public advertisements should not “downplay the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” They ultimately instructed Cathay to “amend the advertisement”, adding that follow-ups will be made to ensure its compliance.

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Beyond highlighting the State’s limited and inadequate definition of what constitutes a family unit, this incident exemplifies a persistent strategy the Singaporean government uses to quell public dissent—by exerting its influence in the form of policy and legality. In fact, what occupied much of the media attention on Pink Dot prior to this latest episode illuminate this exact pattern. To those unfamiliar with the issue, amendments made to the Public Order Act by the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nov last year imposed a blanket ban on foreign involvement from all future Pink Dot assemblies. There are two ways in which this policy takes shape. One, the State has limited sponsorship rights solely to domestic corporations. Since the inception of Pink Dot in 2009, the event has largely relied on the funding provided by multinational companies such as Google, Facebook and Barclays. When juxtaposed to the collective amount traditionally pledged by foreign enterprises, local sponsorship, although not insignificant, pales by comparison. More specifically, for Pink Dot 2016, only five out of the 18 corporate sponsors were domestic entities. By circumscribing Pink Dot’s fundraising process, the government created artificial barriers that hinder the execution and success of the event.

Aside from restricting sponsorship rights, the new amendments also banned foreigners from showing up at the event itself. Before, a participant’s citizenship status was irrelevant to his or her attendance. Immediately prior to last year’s event, the government imposed sanctions on foreign involvement by prohibiting non-Singaporeans and permanent residents from participating in a demonstration, allowing them only to peacefully observe (holding up placards was still acceptable). According to the most recent amendments, “the law no longer distinguishes between participants and observers, and regards anyone who turns up to the Speakers’ Corner in support of an event to be part of an assembly.” Foreigners, thus, are altogether barred from the Hong Lim Park event on July 1 this year (only Singaporeans and Permanent Residents can be physically present).

In response to media queries on these new circumstances, the Ministry of Home Affairs issued the statement below:

“The Government’s general position has always been that foreign entities should not interfere in our domestic issues, especially political issues or controversial social issues with political overtones. These are political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves. LGBT issues are one such example. This is why under the rules governing the use of the Speakers’ Corner, for events like Pink Dot, foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events, or participate in demonstrations.”  

I take issue with several of the State’s claims. First, note that by exclusively highlighting the need to protect political and social issues from foreign interference, the State strategically leaves out economic issues. This reflects the State’s ideology when it comes to managing foreigners, where the relevance of these ‘outsiders’ is confined to their economic contribution. It suggests that foreign talents, labor and investment are encouraged in our country to the extent that they help with our economy, but these entities should not have any further influence beyond that. This not only assumes that the social experiences of foreigners are external to our sociopolitical and cultural makeup, but it simultaneously reinforces the falsehood that foreigners are somehow unaffected by the workings of today’s inequalities. This is highly problematic because the criminalisation of same-sex acts and relationships do not exclusively affect Singaporeans—LGBTQ-identifying foreigners face similar forms of discrimination both at work and in their personal lives. Sometimes, we forget that foreigners who attend an event like Pink Dot may share some of the very same grievances as their Singaporean counterparts. Pink Dot could be as much about standing up for one’s own rights as it is about advancing a particular brand of politics for these non-Singaporeans.

Furthermore, it is important to remind ourselves that social issues have economic consequences. The State likes to use terms like ‘domestic’ or ‘social issues’ to trivialise the effects of certain inequalities, disregarding the fact that these very issues lead to real crevices in one’s material life. For example, and as aforementioned, the criminalisation of homosexuality (a social issue) could prevent LGBTQ individuals from gaining fair access to job opportunities (an economic issue). By failing to recognise same-sex unions (a social issue), same-sex couples are deprived of the same rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples when purchasing public housing (once again, an economic issue). For those LGBTQ-identifying foreigners who desire to naturalise in this country and settle down with their partners, their aspirations may not differ that much from other queer Singaporeans. This universal yearning to belong is what that propels both citizens and non-citizens alike to mobilise.

As sociologists love to say – humans are a product of society, and our thoughts and actions are never independently formulated. When the State claims that there are “political, social or moral choices for Singaporeans to decide for ourselves,” there is an underlying assumption that Singaporeans possess an intrinsically different set of morals from foreigners, and that it is vulnerable to foreign disruption. This assumption, of course, stems from a long-held belief that homosexuality is a western-imported concept that remains incompatible with Asian values or ‘true’ Singaporeanhood. This assumption also situates Singaporean culture as static and ahistorical, and that it somehow contains an essence that is ‘pure’ and non-evolving (even though the greatest irony is that in almost all other aspects of our lives, we have wholeheartedly embraced foreign technologies, cuisines and ways of being). It further suggests the fact that it is almost inherently wrong to be both gay and Singaporean, insofar as these are contradicting and irreconcilable qualities. This is a carefully engineered social narrative that still holds much cultural influence over Singaporean society today, oftentimes used by the older generation to denigrate young LGBTQ Singaporeans for their cosmopolitan and westernised worldviews.

This urgent need to restrict outside influences (“foreigners are not allowed to organize or speak at the events”) is also an unsatisfying explanation for the new changes in law because Singaporeans are leading increasingly interconnected and transnational lives. Democratic ideals travel across the world through mainstream and social media outlets. We lived through the events that led to the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defence of Marriage Act in the US in 2015, just as how we witnessed the Taiwanese’s high court’s ruling that brought same-sex marriage to its legal fruition this May. These historic events do not exist in social vacuums; we hear about them and they have the power to shape how we understand and navigate our world. Moreover, in this day and age, websites such as Netflix and YouTube grant us instant access to content that expose us to the lives of LGBTQs and the sexual activism that is happening all around the world. This global diffusion of narratives, values and knowledge have happened, is happening and will continue to happen, whether the Singapore government likes it or not. Banning foreign speakers and participants from an LGBTQ rights event for the fear that they would transmit un-Singaporean values to its attendees should be the least of the State’s concerns.

Singapore prides itself for being a diverse and multicultural nation, oftentimes flaunting its cosmopolitanism as a means to legitimise its position in the global arena. An international city puts people of all creeds and citizenship into constant social intercourse, facilitating the formation of friendships and partnerships between citizens and non-citizens. Singaporeans befriend and date folks who are non-citizens—this is a social fact that could not get anymore mundane. However, under the new Public Order Act, couples, families and friends with mixed citizenship status will be unable to attend this year’s Pink Dot together. This laboured and politically-motivated effort to separate particular forms of social union poignantly points to the reality that underpins the need for Pink Dot’s existence, where notions of “freedom” and “love” have yet to transcend the rigid boundaries of socially constructed categories such as gender, sexuality and incidentally, citizenship.

To sum up—queer politics in Singapore cannot and will never become a purely Singaporean affair because amidst an increasingly cosmopolitan and global world order, it is impossible to trace and defend what one might call an ‘authentically Singaporean ideal.’ In fact, we need to move away from the pursuit of this false sense of pureness by aspiring to become critically aware global citizens (by balancing values and morals from a wide array of cultures and traditions), rather than the static and non-evolving Singaporean our government so desperately wants us to be.

Besides, take a minute to think about what the State just tried to accomplish—by removing foreign involvements, the governing power, as I believe, ventured into slowing down the momentum of Singapore’s first and only LGBTQ movement. This suggests that the State’s imagination of the average Singaporean is someone who is politically apathetic and unsupportive of, or at best, neutral towards the idea of gay rights (‘without foreigners, the movement would fail’). For galvanised Singaporeans, showing up and mobilising is one of the most powerful ways to overcome such an inadequate conception of themselves.

In addition, the idea that only someone with the right documentation can participate in a social movement is not only fundamentally undemocratic, but it sends a disturbing message to non-Singaporeans living in the nation state—that your voices do not matter, and that you do not get to mess with the status quo. Foreigners who disagree with such a treatment should also find meaningful avenues to express their discontent towards this form of exclusionary politics (e.g. voicing your concerns through both online and offline platforms). Regardless of whether this could lead to a tangible change of heart by the government, getting the conversation going is key.

Perhaps a heartening outcome that emerged amidst all of this controversy is that in just under six weeks, more than 100 Singaporean firms have stepped up and committed financial support for this year’s event, a size twenty times larger than last year’s five. According to The Straits Times’, as of early May, Pink Dot organisers have raised a total of $201,000—surpassing their initial target of $150,000. It is important to remember though, that in a country where 30 per cent of the population is made up of foreigners, most domestic firms have foreign representation. Embedded deep within the backing of Singaporean firms lies the support of their non-Singaporean constituents as well.

Online, many overseas Singaporeans have expressed their intentions to return home to attend this year’s Pink Dot (to make up for some lost numbers). I assume that during their time abroad, many of these overseas Singaporeans would have accumulated new cultural values and understandings of democracy. Perhaps their way of navigating the world resembles more closely to the foreigners residing in our country than those who never left. In the eyes of our government, might these individuals also be unworthy of civic engagement in Singapore?

Ultimately, what matters most for us is that when faced with the State’s repeated attempts at redrawing the contours of the Pink Dot, movement organisers and their allies need to fight to ensure that the integrity of the movement is not lost. How the story develops depends less on the shape or size of this one dot, but how many new ones we can inspire as new and imminent waves of activism await us.

Skyler Wang is a PhD student in Sociology at UC Berkeley. Broadly, Skyler’s research foci include sexualities, culture and the global economy. His interest in the sociology of sexualities was sparked by his personal experiences growing up queer in Singapore. He can be reached here.

 

Featured image from Pink Dot SG’s Facebook page.

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Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the result of the vote in her constituency at the count centre for the general election in Maidenhead, June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

by Sharanya Pillai

DISMAY for Theresa May, as the UK general elections returned a hung parliament today (June 9). The UK Prime Minister’s Conservative Party lost its parliamentary majority after May’s decision for a snap election backfired disastrously. Calls now abound for her resignation.

While the Tories won the most seats, the party is still short of the 326 seats needed for the majority, having lost 26 seats to the opposition Labour Party and five to the Liberal Democrats. Seven frontbencher Tories are out, including Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer, who authored the widely-criticised Tory manifesto.

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The opposition Labour Party meanwhile has had a field day, gaining 31 seats as of 0700 GMT (3pm Singapore time) and nearly wiping out the Tories in London. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has called on May to step down, and pundits are taking bets on whether May will make way for the left-wing political outsider to become PM.

In a hung Parliament, the incumbent PM continues to stay in office while it is decided who will form the next government. May has until June 13 to form a majority coalition to keep herself in power or resign. In 2010, the Tories and Lib Dems formed a coalition government after the elections failed to deliver a clear winner.

Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party candidate Emily Thornberry gesture at a counting centre. Image by Reuters.

Amid increased political uncertainty, the British pound fell sharply. There are also increased fears over whether the UK will see Brexit through. Former UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage has voiced alarm that the process is “in jeopardy”. The Ukip, once a leading voice in the push for Brexit, lost all its parliamentary seats in the election.

With chaos over the unexpected result, there’s a strong sense of deja vu. Like former PM David Cameron’s stunning Brexit loss, the election defeat was largely of May’s own making. The PM called for snap elections three years earlier than required, because opinion polls indicated that she outranked Corbyn. After Trump’s unexpected victory in the US elections, it seems like pre-election polls have once again blindsided politicians.

Now, May’s own party is turning against her. Anna Soubry, a senior Tory Member of Parliament, called May’s campaign “dreadful” and said that the PM should “reconsider her position”. Meanwhile, May has refused to resign, reiterating her pledge to bring “stability for the nation”.

 

Featured image by Reuters.

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AN EXTRAORDINARY moment on Capitol Hill on Thursday, fired FBI Director James Comey strongly hinting that President Donald Trump may have broken the law, telling a Senate panel that Trump fired him to undermine the Russia probe.

Mr Comey said, “I was fired because of the Russia investigation, something about the way I was handling it, the president felt created pressure on him that he wanted to relieve.”

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Mr Comey’s dramatic testimony – the first time he’s spoken in public since he was fired – has only fanned the flames around Mr Trump’s White House.

The world witnessing the spectacle of a former high-ranking government official under oath pointing his finger directly at the president, saying he was pressured to drop an investigation into Mr Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

Mr Comey’s account largely going unchallenged by senators of either party, the question of whether the president’s actions amount to obstruction of justice, a crime for which people can go to jail and presidents can be impeached.

Mr Comey came under intense questioning from the Senate Intelligence Committee, declining to say directly whether he thinks Mr Trump interfered with justice, but revealing deep suspicions of the president’s motive.

Elaborating on his written statement that Mr Trump repeatedly asked him for loyalty and pressed him to drop a probe into Mr Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia.

Mr Comey said, “I took it as a direction. The president of the United States with me alone, saying I hope this. I took it as this is what he wants me to do. I didn’t obey that, but that’s the way I took it.”

Mr Comey saying he took notes for memos about his interactions with the president, specifically because he thought he might lie about their conversations after the fact. -REUTERS

Featured image by Flickr user DonkeyHotey. CC BY 2.0

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by Daniel Yap

THE Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) has spoken up against the Cineleisure Pink Dot ad.

Less than two days after the Police ruled that Pink Dot and Cathay were well within their rights to promote the event in advertisements in Cathay’s Cineleisure mall, the advertising watchdog has demanded that the content of the ad be changed because it breached the “family values” required in the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice (SCAP).

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Can you spot the infringement?

Marketing reported that ASAS demanded the removal of the phrase “supporting the freedom to love”, saying that it downplayed “the importance of the family as a unit and foundation of society.” It also said that the phrase breached Singapore’s shared values of “family as the basic unit of society”, “community support and respect for the individual”, and “consensus, not conflict”.

ASAS did not give any other details about why the phrase was considered subversive.

Members of the public were quick to mock ASAS’ demands.

 

Days earlier, members of a Facebook group called “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” announced that they had made a Police report against the ad, prompting the Police announcement that the ad was perfectly legal.

Anti-LGBT campaigners in the Facebook group, however, seemed less than satisfied with ASAS’ actions.

A post in the “We are against Pinkdot in Singapore” group

But the uproar over the ad is perhaps having the opposite effect that anti-LGBT campaigners are hoping for – visibility of the ad in social media and on the news has skyrocketed because of the controversy, allowing the promotion of the event to reach far beyond the confines of the mall.

 

Featured image by Flickr user Jnzl’s Photos. CC BY 2.0

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by Sharanya Pillai 

IT IS an unlikely union – Singapore’s largest taxi operator collaborating with a young startup which has captured a small slice of the market for third-party booking apps. But both ComfortDelGro (CDG) and carpooling app Ryde hope that their new joint taxi-booking service will help them win over customers.

The taxi-booking service, which launched on Thursday (June 1), combines Ryde’s technology with CDG’s fleet of over 16,000 taxis. The two companies had earlier announced the partnership in a press release on May 25. Ryde also revealed that it has obtained a Third Party Taxi Booking certificate from the Land Transport Authority.

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The startup currently has 100,000 registered users and 30,000 cars on its platform in Singapore. Ryde CEO Terence Zou revealed that the app has about 250,000 bookings per month. Prior to this, Ryde had positioned itself solely as a social carpooling app, which matches users with everyday drivers going the same route, for fixed fares. “Ryders” can choose the gender of the drivers, and both parties are encouraged to interact.

The taxi-booking feature, however, does not incorporate the carpooling element. It operates much like other taxi-booking apps, allowing individuals to book a CDG cab on the roads. The difference is that customers can choose between a flat or metered fare. If they pick a flat fare, the amount is displayed on the taxi meter itself, so that the driver does not have to use the app.

Asked if the new feature replicates the existing CDG app, Mr Zou responded that each platform has a different user base: “Our target consumer is younger, tech-savvy, and typically from Gen Y. They’re below 45 years old, and more willing to explore different mobility options… What we are essentially giving CDG is the technology. It’s another option for them to get more riders.”

The booking process was straightforward and seamless when TMG tried using the app. It took about thirty seconds for the app to locate a taxi, and another three minutes for the taxi to arrive. For a 2.5km journey from Pioneer MRT into Nanyang Technological University, the fare was $8, which was slightly cheaper than $8.62 for an UberX and $8.10 for UberPool.

It also fell within the estimated $7 to $11 range for booking a standard taxi using Grab at the same timing. However, the JustGrab and GrabShare services were more competitively priced at $6 and $5 respectively – a reminder of the cutthroat competition Ryde is up against.

This is especially since all five other taxi operators – SMRT Taxis, Prime Taxi, Premier Taxis, Trans-Cab and HDT Singapore Taxi – chose to collaborate with Grab in March. The next month, news broke that SMRT Taxis, the third biggest operator, is in talks to sell off its business to Grab. Meanwhile, Uber continues to compete fiercely with Grab to dominate the market for private-hire cars. As reported late last month, private hire cars now outnumber taxis by 1.5 times.

Ryde also operates in Hong Kong, but has not partnered with taxi companies there yet. Abroad, the startup also faces more rivals like the Hong Kong taxi ride-sharing app Hopsee.

Mr Zou reckons that being smaller makes the Ryde more efficient than its rivals. “Uber and Grab have their strengths, but for us, we are light and nimble, and we innovate and implement quickly,” he said, adding that the company typically aims to roll out new features every month and is now working on an online payment system.

For now, Ryde is focused on expanding the taxi-booking system in Singapore to include more premium options like limousine taxis. The company is also open to collaborating not just with taxis but any other transport providers to be a “full suite mobility platform”,  Mr Zou said.

Ryde also hopes to up its own carpooling fleet. Currently, about 1 in 17 private cars in Singapore are on Ryde’s platform, and Mr Zou aims to change that to 1 in 6 by next year. And while new reports continue to indicate that the likes of Uber are bleeding cash, Mr Zou also hopes that Ryde will break even by next year.

Meanwhile, it remains to be seen if the partnership within one of the biggest incumbents and smallest disruptors will bear fruit.

 

Featured image from Ryde’s Facebook page.

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by Danielle Goh

ALL the cheese lovers in Singapore rejoice. The rest of you, we understand you may not be too enthusiastic.

The newly revamped LiHo has a range of cheese milk teas, and a $1.90 topping of cheese to go with any drink. RTG Holdings decided not to continue the Gong Cha franchise here, after its Taiwanese business partners sold the company to Gong Cha Korea. By Monday (Jun 5), all 80 Gong Cha outlets will be replaced with LiHo. It’s new name means “How are you?” in Hokkien.

Some additions to the menu are the cheese milk tea, smoothies, and vitagen drinks. Gong Cha fans need not fear, as trademark flavours such as Oolong Milk Tea, and Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M still remains on the new LiHo menu. There are also more ways to drink your milk tea: A small opening with a heart-shaped lid helps to get to the top layer, and comes in handy for hot drinks. Also, drinks come in medium and large sizes.

NOTE: Gong Cha has clarified that Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range actually consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping. We apologise for the error.

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TMG went down to LiHo at Paragon and Cineleisure to try the controversial cheese teas, other new flavours, and also the more ‘conventional’ milk teas. We’ve rated each drink, and picked out the best and worst ones:

 

1. Cheese Guan Yin with cheese topping, Large. $7

So for this drink I went crazy with the cheese… It was a bit of a splurge, but worth it.

Fans of Gong Cha will be happy to know that the cheese had a light foamy texture, similar to the Gong Cha milk topping. The cheese was like a creamy version of a Japanese cheesecake. Mixed with a light brew of oolong tea, the slightly savoury cheese topping blended well with the drink. The cheese was not too overbearing, and the different layers in the drink made for a colourful taste palette. It took a while getting used to the blend of savoury with the slight bitterness of the oolong tea.

For cheese lovers, don’t forget to drink it to the end for the last bits of cheesy goodness!

Verdict: Yes, it lives up to the hype. 9 out of 10

 

2. Cheese Jing Syuan tea, with white pearl topping, Medium. $4.80

The cheese and Jing Syuan tea is an unexpected pairing.

It’s like salted egg yolk on a bailey’s ice cream, unique together, but also completely okay without the other. The savoury cheese was a surprisingly satisfying counter to the sweetness of the Jing Syuan tea though. This one didn’t blend as well as the Cheese Guan Yin, so the cheese layer remained at the top. So this was like drinking the Jing Syuan tea, but also eating a slab of cheesecake, separately. After stirring more vigorously, the cheese still didn’t quite mix with the tea, so I felt like I was drinking regular Jing Syuan tea. It was not as good as the Cheese Guan Yin in my opinion.

Verdict: Surprisingly good, but can be better blended. 7 out of 10

 

3. Yam Milk with custard pudding topping, Medium. $4.30

This was so good…

It’s a tough fight between the yam milk and the Cheese Guan Yin for first place. I was glad to have taken the staff’s suggestion to have the custard pudding topping. It added a caramelised sweetness, and the soft, milky texture of the pudding complemented the yam perfectly. The concentration of yam was just right, and it made the drink appetising. This drink reminded me of my favourite mango pudding, it could double up as dessert any time! I finished the drink very quickly.

Also the pretty purple colour is a plus.

Verdict: Perfect mix. 10 out of 10

 

4. Classic Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3M, Medium. $4.20

Ah, the classic milk tea. Basically an improved version of Gong Cha’s Earl Grey Milk Tea + 3J. Slight difference is that Gong Cha has more of a smooth texture, while for LiHo there’s a stronger brew of tea, and it’s a little more milky. The mixture of black pearl, pudding and jelly is bubble tea heaven.

Verdict: It’s classic for a reason. 8 out of 10

 

5. Choc-A-Milk + OREO, Medium. $4.20

I had to walk to Cineleisure for this one, because it was sold out at LiHo’s Paragon branch. According to the staff, this drink is a best-seller. But after drinking it, I think that most of the credit goes to the Oreos. There’s a generous portion of crumbled Oreo bits at the top of the drink, but it doesn’t really go well with the chocolate milk tea. After a while, I felt that I was drinking diluted chocolate milk, but with the occasional Oreo crunch. It was quite a disappointment. Maybe it would work better as a smoothie…

Verdict: Does not taste as good as it sounds. 5 out of 10

 

6. Vitagen ‘n’ Peach, Medium. $4.00

Tastes just like normal Vitagen, and it’s very, very, very sweet. Sadly, nothing really special about this drink. I couldn’t taste much of the peach, and as if the Vitagen was not sweet enough, there’s sugar liquid at the bottom. Feels like they bought bottles of Vitagen and just poured it in; If I wanted Vitagen, I would rather just go to Sheng Siong.

Verdict: Excuse me while I reel from sugar overdose… 3 out of 10

 

7. Golden Yuzu Juice + Golden Ai Yu, Medium. $3.70

Here’s a healthier option if you need a pick-me-up drink for the day. It was really refreshing, a great thirst-quencher on a hot and humid day! The sourness of the yuzu hits you very quickly, with a sharp aftertaste. Some yuzu slices are mixed in with the drink, so it’s peel fresh. The jelly helps to break the sourness with its honeyed sweetness. Only downside to this is that the jelly is a gigantic chunk. Was a little annoying because it’s too big to drink with the straw, so I had to keep mashing it.

Verdict: Don’t be jelly, try this. 7 out of 10

 

Well, at this point I’ve been convinced: Cheese does go with milk tea. Top favourites are the Cheese Guan Yin and the Yam Milk with custard pudding; I’ll gladly go for a second cup.

 

Note: Previously, the article mentioned that Gong Cha’s Oolong Milk Tea remains on the new LiHo menu. This is incorrect, as Oolong Milk Tea is not available on LiHo’s menu. LiHo’s Say Cheese range consists of different teas, with no addition of milk, and a cheese topping.

 

Featured image by TMG.

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by Kok Wei Liang

THIRTY.

Thirty, is the age where a single woman is no longer expected to laugh demurely at nosy relatives asking why she is still single during Chinese New Year, and can choose instead to bare her teeth, or take short vacations overseas, and everyone will understand.

Thirty, is the latest percentage increase in the price of water, a perfectly reasonable price hike that will surely result in greater public awareness of the importance of water, especially for essential, non-domestic uses, which is why industries will always pay less for water than residents in Singapore.

And thirty, is the amount we are going to spend on lunch today. It is the smallest amount I have ever spent on lunch. In my life. I can barely keep the look of disbelief off my face, because I have repeatedly told MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling that the Sunday Times is paying, and she still insists on choosing a restaurant with a Block Number in the address.

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“Ong Ye Kung also chose a zhi char, but we managed to spend over $100,” I sulk.

“I’m not in the running for Prime Minister,” she points out. “And besides, women in my position have to be careful about appearances.”

“What position would that be?”

“Being hated.”

She is talking about her less-than-ideal entrance into politics in 2011, when it seemed like the entire Internet gathered together to mock the then 27-year-old for being a young person supporting the PAP. I can commiserate, because I know a thing or two about being hated by trolls on Facebook who do not have their own regular column, and probably never will.

In 2011, Ms Tin was part of the team which contested the Marine Parade GRC, along with then Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. When the PAP squeaked by with just 56.6% of the vote for Marine Parade, Mr Goh turned on her, citing her negative publicity as a factor in its humiliating victory. Now that she has rehabilitated her image, and done better than Mr Goh in the 2015 elections, how does she feel?

“Off the record?” she asks. Her face changes to grim satisfaction, and she bangs her mug of barley on the table. She leans in closer to me, so I can feel her breath on my face. “It felt fucking amazing! I wanted to eat a lot of jackfruit, piss on the ground, and rub Tall Man’s face into the rancid puddle of my urination. It would have made the stankest meme ever.

“On the record?” She sits back, and her face changes back to its usual sweet demeanor. “It gave me the opportunity to blossom into the woman I am today. I am very grateful to the PAP. Always vote, for the lightning bolt!”

Still, I persist, it must have been difficult to feel so much negativity from the public.

“It was the darkest time of my life,” she concedes. “I ate a lot of fried chicken. I did a lot of things I would never, ever admit to, like shop for expensive Kate Spade handbags with my husband’s credit card, then blame his mother.

“But whenever I was really down, I would just think of strong, Asian, female role models in the media, like…”

We stare at each other blankly for eleven minutes.

Finally, I venture a suggestion. “Me?”

“Mulan!” She announces triumphantly, at the same time. I write down her answer studiously, and we both pretend I hadn’t said anything.

Our Poor People Food arrives. She transfers a chicken wing onto her plate, and is about to take an eager bite when I stop her. “What are you doing?” I ask, shocked to my core.

“Eating,” she responds, with the exaggerated patience of a Member of Parliament speaking to a concerned citizen.

“But you’re not stressed out, or pregnant. Those are a woman’s only excuses to eat in public!”

“What are you talking about?” She seems incredulous. “You eat $100 lunches, all the time.”

“I order $100 lunches all the time. I don’t eat them! Sometimes, I nibble, but I always spit it out in the napkin, because I’m a lady. Ladies never swallow. And this is all fried food! How do you eat all this, and stay so slim?”

“I’m just one of those women,” she answers, and defiantly sinks her teeth into the chicken wing. I feel my upper lip curl in disapproval. And my stomach growl in jealousy. If this is what it’s like to have lunch with another woman, I will not be repeating the experience anytime soon.

“Oh come on, don’t be liddat. Please don’t pout, Sumiko,” she sighs as she puts down her chicken wing, and sidles over to me. Then, she starts touching me. Then, she starts caressing me. Then, she starts fondling me. Then, she starts hugging me.

“Sometimes, I like to touch people,” she explains, upon my bemused facial expression. “I hug my residents all the time. Thankfully we are women, so can touch.”

I pull back from her. “Are you kidding me?”

I grab my handbag. “Are you seriously, for real, being serious with me?”

I stand up so forcefully that my chair tips over. “I’ve seen the photos of you on Facebook. Those. Women. Are. Old!” I scream, as I start hitting her with my purse. “How dare you, I’ve never been more insulted in my life!”

I raise the handbag high above, and bring it down on her again and again. It is not a Kate Spade handbag, but it is branded.

It is Gucci, actually, and the giant Gucci buckle makes a satisfying thwack! thwack! thwack! sound, as she yelps in pain, and I ignore her frantic apologies.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

Read his other pieces from the #SumiKok series:

  1. The bee hoon be $25
  2. $28 club sandwiches? Of Kors!
  3. A taste of revenge for $57.78
  4. The pass code is 4826
  5. May Schooling be ever in your favour!
  6. Fifty shades of fine art appreciation

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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by Kok Wei Liang

I AM breathless with anticipation over my upcoming lunch with Dr Fatris Bakaram, the Mufti of Singapore. This is the first time I am interviewing a religious leader for the hate-reading pleasure of an entire nation, so naturally, I am a little nervous.

Today’s interview takes place in the shadow of the Sultan Mosque, which is a place where Muslims go. We are meeting at the Landmark, a restaurant which serves halal food – food that Muslims eat.

It is just past 1pm and I’m suddenly aware of a change in the sound. Ah, I realize, this is the azan, the call to prayer, a sound that Muslims make.

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Dr Fatris arrives. He is wearing clothes that Muslims wear. Accompanying him today is Mr Zainul Abidin Ibrahim, the director of strategic engagement at Muis (Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council).

Mr Zainul does not say a single word during the entire interview. At first, I think his silence is strategic engagement, but after a while I suspect he is purely here because word got around that the Sunday Times is paying for lunches.

I decide not to tell either of them that Ong Ye Kung blew $114.17, or that Michael Kors splurged more on beverages than what we’ll be spending on lunch today. After all, Lunch with Sumiko is still Lunch with Sumiko, even if it’s under $100.

As Mufti of Singapore, Dr Fatris has many duties, but the one I’m most interested in is how he chairs the committee that issues fatwas.

“Fatwas are Islamic legal rulings, yes?”

“Yes.”

“And they can be rendered against enemies of Islam?”

“Fatwas are not, by definition, a pronouncement of death or a declaration of war.”

“Enemies, like, say… Kok Wei Liang?”

“I don’t know who that is, Ms Tan.”

“He’s a pig. You should fatwa him.”

After a round of delicious appetizers declined by Dr Fatris due to his gout but silently inhaled by Mr Zainul, the waiter brings us a spread from the buffet: delectable sambal chicken, mouth-watering fish in curry, toothsome prawn masala, and seductive chilli crab, served with fragrant rice, and naan that I would happily sell my journalistic cred for.

I ask Dr Fatris if he has any thoughts about Singapore’s upcoming Presidential elections being restricted only to Malay candidates.

“That’s a very loaded question,” he observes.

“Oh, don’t worry, I’m also the Executive Editor of the Sunday Times,” I reply. “I’ll just edit your answer out.”

“In fact, I’ll even edit my question out of the interview! No one will ever know about the time I asked one of my subjects a thought-provoking question which required an answer one couldn’t already find on the Internet. Canned responses are what our readers really want! Shall we talk about the terror group, Islamic State?”

“I condemn them.”

“I would never have guessed!”

It is time to shoot our video, and Dr Fatris decides to talk about how his father, who died in 1995, was a major influence in his life.

“So your father was also a religious teacher, like yourself?”

“Yes.”

I motion to the camera guy to focus on me, and speak directly to the viewer. “You hear that, Mothership? New Nation? Rice Media? Mr. Brown?! You gonna make fun of a religious leader remembering his dead father, who was also a religious teacher, huh? You wanna come for me this time, assholes?! Cash me ousside, howbow dah!”

Our lunch has now taken us to 3pm. We decline dessert, but get tea. Talk turns to how he writes poetry in his spare time, to relax. One particular poem is about his hopes and dreams for his four children.

“I’m not going to read that,” I demur, “and I think you should stick to your day job of being the Mufti, but would you care to tell our readers what this poem is about?”

“Well,” he pauses. “It’s about how I hope that one day, one of them might grow up to be President.”

And as long as he has no plans for them to be Prime Minister, I am sure the silent majority of Singaporeans will support him.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

Read his other pieces from the #SumiKok series:

  1. The bee hoon be $25
  2. $28 club sandwiches? Of Kors!
  3. The pass code is 4826
  4. Eat drink woman $30
  5. May Schooling be ever in your favour!
  6. Fifty shades of fine art appreciation

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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by Kok Wei Liang

IT HAS been over two weeks since my lunch with celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, when he calls me out of the blue.

“Would you like to visit the National Gallery with me, Sumiko? I want to purchase some art.”

“For your restaurant? I don’t think the National Gallery will just let you buy anything, Jahwn-Gorges.”

“It’s okay! I am very rich. Remember how I blew over $200 on lunch, then focused on the carrots? I can buy whatever I want!”

How could I say no to that?

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An hour later, I meet Jean-Georges outside the National Gallery. He looks very relaxed, in a maroon polo shirt and a pair of dark-washed blue jeans.

He seems to know exactly where he wants to go, so I follow him through the sparsely-attended main gallery, past a café, up two flights of stairs, into an elevator that goes down two floors, down a hallway, and finally, into a lushly-decorated room.

Inside, a formidable-looking woman sits behind a polished mahogany reception counter. She looks up, recognises him, and immediately smiles.

“Mr. Jean-Georges Vongerichten,” she pronounces accurately. “What can we do for you today?”

“Hello, Rubella,” he replies confidently. “I would like some art.”

“What kind of art?”

“Whatever’s the most expensive.”

Rubella reaches below the counter, and pulls out a tiny stick figure with a smiley face.

“This just came in from Sweden. It is a transcendent piece, evoking profound sensibilities of post-modern happiness. It is valued at…”

She trails off in a performative way, then reaches for a pen. She writes a very, very, very long number on a Post-It, which she peels off and delicately hands over to Jean-Georges, with a smile that manages to be inviting and incredulous in equal measure.

“That seems very reasonable!” Jean-Georges declares, as I try not to wince.

“Splendid!” Rubella’s smile flashes, like a weapon. “And how will you be appreciating your art, today?”

Jean-Georges fishes out his MasterCard Black, and hands it to her. “With this.”

Rubella pulls out a blender. She crumbles the stick figure inside. Just as I think to myself, “Will it blend?”, she blends it.

Then she empties out the pulverised art, divides it into eight rows with the MasterCard Black, pulls a two-inch stainless steel straw from her pocket, and places it next to the powdery lines with a flourish.

Jean-Georges beckons to me. “Ladies, first?”

“No-thank-you,” I squeak.

“Suit yourself,” he shrugs. “More for me!”

He picks up the straw, and snorts four lines of art into his right nostril. He snorts the other four lines into his left nostril. He closes his eyes, tilts his head back, exhales loudly, and lets out a “Whoo, boy! That is some good art!”

“I, um…” I timidly interject. “I had no idea art could be enjoyed this way.”

Jean-Georges turns to me, opens his eyes, and flashes a truly, unreservedly, satisfied smile. “That’s because your understanding of art is poor. And by that, I mean you approach art like a poor person. This is how rich people consume art.”

“Yes, and you are very privileged to witness what happened today,” Rubella informs me, before addressing Jean-Georges. “Mr. Jean-Georges Vongerichten, we will send a painting to your restaurant. Something nice, for you to look at. Compliments of the National Gallery.”

“Is this really how art works?!” I blurt out.

“I know this is all very strang–” Jean-Georges stops talking, places a finger on his right nostril, inhales some residue sharply, then continues. “But someday, Sumiko, when you make as much money as I do, and I have every confidence you’ll get there… That’s when this – and I mean, all of this! – will make sense.

“Now, could you be a dear, and help me find my way home, please? The address is in my shirt pocket.”

We are inside the elevator, going up, when I suddenly exclaim, “Wait! You forgot your MasterCard!”

“Oh, Sumiko,” he sighs. “You’re thinking like a poor person, again. Black Cards are for art.

“When I pay for things, I use my Gold Card.”

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

Read his other pieces from the #SumiKok series:

  1. The bee hoon be $25
  2. $28 club sandwiches? Of Kors!
  3. A taste of revenge for $57.78
  4. The pass code is 4826
  5. Eat drink woman $30
  6. May Schooling be ever in your favour!

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.

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by Kok Wei Liang

THE two press officers who undoubtedly chose White Restaurant for Education Minister Ong Ye Kung’s lunch with me did an excellent job. They selected a place in the sleepy provincial town of Sembawang, his GRC, plus they chose an eatery whose name immediately brings to mind the PAP’s iconic white uniform, and not white supremacy at all.

Our lunch will eventually come up to $114.17 – enough to make almost anyone else cry, but completely affordable to people on a ministerial salary. In his pink shirt and black trousers, and accompanied by two press secretaries, a security team, and a camera crew, Mr Ong blends in seamlessly with the rest of the office lunch crowd.

I am very nervous, because the first question I want to ask him is also the most sensitive: how does he feel about having lunch in public with Singapore’s most famous married woman?

He pauses, then answers shyly, “It’s just like having lunch with my Wife, except you’re not my Wife.”

I ponder what he means, and decide to let him eat. After all, Lunch with Sumiko would not be Lunch with Sumiko, without lunch.

Patrons of The Middle Ground enjoy priority access to our best stories. To become a patron, click here.

The bee hoon tastes exactly like how one would expect $25 bee hoon to taste – gentrified. It’s almost like my grandmother’s bee hoon, except for the distinct sense it is judging me for being unable to discern whether or not it is gluten-free. I sip my $4 homemade barley. He gulps down his $10 lime juice.

His two press secretaries stare blankly at me. The male one fidgets. The female one taps her shoe against the floor. It would make everyone at this table look substantially better if I reported that they were also eating bee hoon with us, so of course, I fail to do that.

The male press secretary decides to mention to me that Mr Ong usually skips lunch. I ask him whether this is true.

He pauses. “I… I…” he seems to be struggling to come up with the words, then there is an outburst. “This job doesn’t let you eat! They don’t like fat ministers, they don’t like unphotogenic ministers, they don’t like anyone who does anything fun!”

The female press secretary says in a soothing, somewhat robotic voice, “That’s not true, Mr Ong. Everybody thinks you’re fun. We all like you.”

I decide to power through. “So… what are these Cabinet meetings like?”

To my absolute horror, Mr Ong bursts into tears. “They’re so mean to me! The other day, he told me I have my head stuffed so far up my own ass, all I can see is my hair!”

The female press secretary suddenly looks very stern. “PM Lee apologised for that. He was being curmudgeonly, because of his gout.” This fails to console the weeping Mr Ong, so she reluctantly continues, “We all think your hair is very nice.”

After another uncomfortable nine minutes of sobbing, she adds, “There, there.”

I decide to throw an even more softball question. “What do you bring to the table?”

He takes a deep breath, then starts screaming, “Nothing! I bring nothing to the table! None of us do! We’re all vastly overpaid, sycophantic yes-men, except none of us know what we’re saying yes to!”

At this point, the two press secretaries nod to the security team. They hustle a hysterical Mr Ong away from the table, the female press secretary smashes our cameras and tape recorders, and the male press secretary goes around giving everyone in the restaurant GST vouchers “if you pretend you never saw this”.

But they forget to give me one.

I finish the gentrified bee hoon, then I order salted egg sotong, sambal sweet potato leaves, meat and seafood rolls, and fish head. After all, the Sunday Times is paying. And Lunch with Sumiko would not be Lunch with Sumiko, without lunch.

 

Kok Wei Liang does not want you to know anything about him, because he likes anonymity when he does standup and slam poetry.

Read his other pieces from the #SumiKok series:

  1. $28 club sandwiches? Of Kors!
  2. A taste of revenge for $57.78
  3. The pass code is 4826
  4. Eat drink woman $30
  5. May Schooling be ever in your favour!
  6. Fifty shades of fine art appreciation

 

Featured image by Sean Chong.

If you like this article, Like The Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!

For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.